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    Episode 147 – The Home Bar Awards

    The Sidecar is one of those cocktails with somewhat contentious origin stories. It’s not as cryptic as the Martinez or some of those other Jerry Thomas era drinks, but it has its share of intrigue. The inventor of the sidecar is believed to have been invented sometime in the very early 1920s by a bartender named Pat MacGarry, who worked at a joint called “Buck’s Club” in London. However, another gentleman with a lot of pull in the prohibition-era cocktail scene decided to wheedle his way in to steal some of the credit. That man was none other than Harry MacElhone, proprietor of of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, birthplace of such storied drinks as the Bloody Mary and the French 75.
    Now, here’s why this history lesson is necessary. Originally, the Sidecar was an “Equal Parts” cocktail, as published in Harry MacElhone’s 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. So, in terms of the ingredients, that would come out to one oz each of Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon juice, which are the bones of the cocktail. This has come to be known as the “French School” of the Sidecar.
    However, in 1930, London bartender Harry Craddock published his legendary Savoy Cocktail Book, which offered a 2 : 1 : 1 ratio of Cognac to Cointreau to Lemon juice. This came to be known as the “English School” of making the drink.
    Eric’s Take

    Now, if you’re asking me which version I prefer, of course, I’m going to lean toward the English school because it most closely resembles your classic “sour ratio,” and this three ingredient drink really does want to be a sour. The mellowness of the orange liqueur is the perfect mediator between the zippy lemon juice and the rich cognac, and my main concern with this drink being in equal parts is that it turns out both too sweet and too sour at the same time. When you do this, the Cognac somehow becomes the mediator between the lemon juice and the orange liqueur, and if there’s anyone who’s supposed to be driving the motorcycle this sidecar is attached to, it should really be the base spirit.

    Anyway, give us a shout-out on Instagram or Facebook to let us know which version of the Sidecar cocktail YOU prefer, and please, just because it’s called a sidecar doesn’t mean you should drink one before your next motorcycle ride. In fact, definitely don’t do that.
    Show Notes LEGGI TUTTO

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    Episode 146 – Art of the Recipe (Part II: Craft)

    Regarding weights and measures, England had a bunch of legislation on the books, but no unified and consistent system until the British Weights and Measures Act of 1824 – about 20 years before Acton’s book was published. America, on the other hand, decided it would go ahead and figure out its own system of weights and measures, despite recommendations from Francophile Thomas Jefferson, who liked the metric system. That, by the way, was rolled out in France in 1799. If you look at cocktail recipes to this day, there’s almost always one set of instructions for US measurements, and another developed for the metric system – which means that you’re never making a completely faithful version of a drink if you swap between the two. So, although we take it for granted today when we see consistent volume or weight measurements on a recipe, there were very few consistent standards even a century or two ago, which actually lends a bit of curb appeal to all those relational recipes that just threw measurements out the window.
    Time
    Now let’s talk about time – right – Acton famously included “cooking time” on all her recipes. Well, it might surprise you to learn that until the middle of the 1800s – and for poor families quite a bit later – nobody besides the uber rich could afford a clock in their home – let alone one that was portable enough to be moved to the kitchen. To me, this doesn’t so much invalidate Acton’s recipes as it emphasizes the importance of making informed estimates about things like the passage of time. Even if it’s aspirational, Acton gives her readers a target to shoot for, which in itself was revolutionary.
    Temperature
    Finally, we have the issue of heat (or temperature). I won’t dwell on this too long, but suffice it to say that Acton’s cooking was all done on wood or coal stoves, so there was no such thing as setting the oven to 350 for one hour. That wouldn’t come along until much later, and since I just promised you that we’d be moving along to cocktails, which don’t require cooking, let’s fast forward to the last decade or two, where one popular drinks historian makes an important contribution to beverage recipes and our ability to re-create them.
    Wondrich, Mr. Boston, and Beyond
    Enter David Wondrich, good ol’ Davey-boy. Cocktail historian, noteworthy for his work at Esquire and just about every other respectable print and digital publication that has a regular drinks column. He is, of course, the author of two very important books, Imbibe! – which is a great entry point to spirits and cocktails – and Punch, which gets real deep and historical and has, in my opinion, even better writing than his first book.
    Now, Wondrich faced a question that pretty much anyone interested in cocktails has raised at some point, which is: what did these classic drinks taste like when they were first invented? The first step, of course, is to dig up some sort of documentation that reveals a cocktail’s ingredients and measurements, and hopefully even its origins. But if you’re a true, primary source historian like Wondrich (and not like all these lazy bloggers and journalists I complain about during our featured cocktail segment), you might rightly be faced with a recipe that involves measures like “flagons” or “gills” or “wine glasses.” In both his books, he provides easy conversions for all sorts of arcane weights and measures, which is what makes them useful both as historical texts and as recipe manuals.
    Wondrich’s books – as texts that bridge history and craft – are quite different from many others that were popular earlier in the century. Here, I think of the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide which takes the form of a reference book like a dictionary or encyclopedia with short entries about each drink. Hold up Mr. Boston next to Imbibe!, and it looks like apples and oranges…kinda because it is. While Wondrich leans heavily on historical context, Mr. Boston and similar texts care more about the materials (and maybe a few sketchy notes on the process) needed to produce a given drink.
    This reminds me quite a bit of the difference between Apicius, which we discussed in Part I, and Modern Cookery. Apicius, like Mr. Boston, is targeted at professionals – people who might consult it as a part of their day-to-day occupation (and perhaps even under a deadline). Books like Imbibe! and Modern Cookery are much more concerned with giving tools to people who are operating in their own homes – and if you’ve made it this far, I think it’s kind of cool to appreciate some of the heritages from which we can trace today’s popular cocktail books.
    Like Acton, Wondrich begins Imbibe! with a list of tools and techniques that anyone who plans to read the ensuing pages will need to know or reference, and this explicit definition of terms is important because the assumption is that the reader hasn’t attended culinary school (or in Wondrich’s case, arcane cocktail school).
    Going back to Brillat-Savarin, and even further to the Epicurean atomistic physics we covered in Part I, I think one way to distinguish these two different types of recipe books from one another (and to value them each for their own sake) is to think of texts like Apicius and Mr. Boston as being concerned with the quantity and type of ingredients, and texts like Imbibe! and Modern Cookery as being concerned with how those ingredients are manipulated and configured (and why). So the next time you purchase a book of recipes, or come across a sexy recipe blog on the internet, I’d encourage you to try and pass what you read through that filter. It could tell you what the recipe and its author are best-suited to communicate, and it could also offer insights on what might be missing in order for you to truly grasp the process.
    The Role of Narrative in Recipes
    Before I wrap up this episode with a list of my best practices for writing a well-crafted recipe drawing on all the stuff we’ve learned in the first two installments of this series, I’d like to take a quick pit-stop in our current time to consider a recipe trend I find charming – but only to a point.
    Here’s when this trend first really occurred to me – and let me preface this by saying I do not own a television and I do not watch network TV on the reg, so I’m often oblivious to certain popular trends until they smack me in the face. That’s exactly what happened here.
    Siba’s Table
    It was New Year’s 2018, and my wife and I were in Lisbon for a trip she was taking as a business school requirement. And, wouldn’t you know it – I happened to contract just about the worst case of Norovirus that anyone has ever had the pleasure to meet. So there I was, lying feverishly in a hotel room in a foreign country, and the station I told my wife to leave on while she left for the day happened to be the Food Network – but not the good ol’ American Food Network – remember, we’re in Europe, so I was watching some UK version of the Food Network and they happened to be airing an all-day marathon of a show called Siba’s Table.
    Now, I grew up watching chefs like Emeril Legassi and others who did cooking demonstrations – often in front of live studio audiences – but where the show was centered wholly around the food. But Siba had a style all her own. All I can remember about that day is lapsing in and out of fever dreams, listening helplessly (for I could not reach the remote) about how we were making this dish because Siba’s in-laws were visiting, and we needed to make this dessert because she was being visited by a childhood friend who had a mango tree in her backyard, and all the while we got to watch her husband entertain their two kids while Siba shopped for ingredients and prepped the dishes.
    I don’t know if it was the cramps and cold sweats or the deluge of unnecessary plot lines that had me more bent out of shape that day, but I continue to be fascinated by the use of narrative (or story arcs) in recipes, and very quick to point out when someone goes overboard.
    The Pioneer Woman
    The U.S. has its own version of Siba’s Table in the form of The Pioneer Woman, who not only has a show with a similar format on The Food Network, but she also has a line of cheaply made cookware and serving ware that will break if you look at it the wrong way – I can tell you that from personal experience. In essence, the host, Ree Drummond is out there on her Oklahoma ranch living the American dream. Did the kids just get done wrastlin’ in the hay field? Let’s whip up grandma’s famous lemonade! Is the husband tired from a day milking horses out in the south pasture? Time for some deep fried shepherd’s pie! And for dessert? Well, you’ll get a heapin’ helpin’ of staged, scripted banter that somehow makes you feel like you’re just another member of the family.
    I think you can see where I’m going with this. At a certain point, a recipe is no longer a recipe when you spoon feed it to people in the form of “info-tainment.” It may have been a recipe at one point, but when the delivery is somehow contingent on filling a 20 minute time slot to feed you ads…well, I’m gonna go ahead and unsubscribe.
    When and How Narrative Can Work
    That’s why I began this episode with Pablo’s wonderfully thoughtful and beautifully articulated story about his Sherry Martini with Pickled Morels. Let’s walk through it so I can show you what I mean in light of Siba’s Table and The Pioneer Woman:

    Was there a story or an initiating incident? Yep. The story was, it’s Spring, and spring means morel mushrooms. Pablo likes to forage them – it’s a good excuse to get some exercise outdoors.

    Was there a problem to solve or a reason why he made this recipe? Absolutely. He foraged some morels that were dry, and he was able to re-purpose them by pickling them and using them as a cocktail garnish.

    Was useful information conveyed? Yes. Not only did Pablo give us the cocktail recipe, which he customized using carefully chosen ingredients from his bar and explaining why he selected each one, but he also gives us a bonus recipe in the form of his pickling liquid. He also told us about Morels and how to identify them.

    I love a good story – but all good stories are real, just like Pablo’s, not constructed in order to prevent you from changing the channel. Remember that last detail of Brillat-Savarin’s favorite fondue recipe? 

    Call for the best wine, which will be copiously drunk, and you will see miracles.

    There’s no doubt that he himself had done so one day while serving or enjoying that very recipe and he was consequently the participant in or witness of some sort of minor miracle – or at least a cheese-and-wine-induced hallucination. It might seem silly, but even this is a “real” detail that I don’t mind encountering in a recipe because it teaches me something about the delicious potential that can be unlocked when you can arrange the atoms and void in your ingredients in just the right way, and in that sense, it is extremely valuable.
    Tips for Writing Great Recipes
     Now it’s time to see if we can synthesize what we’ve learned over the past two installments of this “Art of the Recipe” series and turn them into a few helpful tips that will help you to be a better recipe writer the next time someone asks you for the secrets behind your favorite dish or drink.
    Tip #1 – Be Careful What You Assume
    Jerry Thomas might have assumed that the ingredients in his “Gin & Pine” cocktail were pretty obvious, but here we are, a century and a half later, scratching our heads. This is the “think about your audience” instruction that all writers need to consider before publishing something because your end product is going to be vastly different based on the assumptions you make about what your audience knows and has access to regarding tools and ingredients. So, if you make an assumption – make it a good one, based on reflection and evidence.
    Tip #2 – Be specific about your materials LEGGI TUTTO

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    Episode 145 – Art of the Recipe (Part I: Origins)

    To be fair, Romans borrowed the idea that the world is comprised of atoms – just like they borrowed their gods – from the Greeks. Philosophers like Democritus and Parmenides paved the way for the notion that the universe is composed of particles that are so small as to be invisible to the naked eye. In fact, Democritus went so far as to explain that the size and shape of atoms had a direct impact of taste perception, claiming that: Bitterness is caused by small, angular, jagged atoms passing across the tongue; whereas sweetness is caused by larger, smoother, more rounded atoms passing across the tongue.
    But it was the Greek philosopher Epicurus who advanced the theory and really honed it to create an atomistic worldview that explained all objects and phenomena in terms of either atoms or void. Unfortunately, no primary sources of Epicurus’ writing exist, but historians widely regard the Roman poet Lucretius and his epic poem De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things) to be an accurate mouthpiece for Epicureanism. We’ll return to that term in a moment and discuss its relation to food and drink in particular.
    If that epic poem, De Rerum Natura, sounds familiar, you may be recalling it from our “Cocktails in a Tim`e of Plague” episode where I reference its detailed account of the plague of Athens. But aside from that bizarre final chapter, the rest of the poem is much more concerned with unpacking the atomistic nature of the universe. The basic premises of Epicurus’ atomic physics are as follows:

    The Universe is comprised entirely of atoms and void

    Atoms are unlimited in quantity, but have a limited number of types (like letters in an alphabet)

    Different arrangements of atoms create different materials and experiences (like the same letters can be used to make different words)

    And finally, all that exists was set in motion by an event he called “the swerve,” which is when one atom changed course and bumped into other atoms, causing a chain reaction of movement and recombination. (Today’s scholars obviously draw very close parallels between this and the Big Bang Theory, but many earlier Christian scholars viewed this as a validation of the idea of Free Will).

    Let’s check out Lucretius’ explanation of Epircuean flavor theory. He writes [quote]:

    And it is so straightforward to explain the sense of taste
    On tongue and palate, that any extra effort is a waste.
    First of all, in our mouth we taste the flavors when we chew,
    Squeezing out the savor from our victuals as we do,
    Just as you might squeeze in your fist a sponge that’s sopping wet
    Until it’s almost dry. The flavors we press out then get
    Dispersed through pores all over the palate, distributing among
    The tortuous passageways of the more loosely textured tongue.
    Then, if the particles of flavor that ooze out are smooth,
    They sweetly brush against the tongue, and sweetly touch and soothe
    All watery and moist places about the tongue. The more they tend
    To be prickly, on the other hand, the more the bodies rend
    And sting the senses as they are released.

    If you know anything about flavor, this is a pretty accurate account of taste receptors, especially considering it was written during ancient times. And what I love most is how down-to-earth Lucretius is with his descriptions. Listen to how he accounts for the different traveling speeds of certain atoms using lightning and thunder as a case study:

    Why is it that we hear the thunder after the flash appears
    To our eyes? Because the particles that travel to our ears
    Always take longer reaching us than those that reach the eyes
    And trigger sight. Here’s an example you can recognize:
    If you see someone far off with a double-headed axe
    Felling a massive tree, you see the strokes before the thwacks
    Reach your ears.

    The reason I bring all this up is because the Roman empire paved the way for a lot of progress to be made in food and cooking. Their trade networks made it easy for people to access to spices, wines, and ingredients from far-off places. They tended not to completely strangle cultures in the places that they conquered, allowing for the circulation of many different ideas and documents. And of course, out of a society that worshipped gods and idols, we have the emergence of an atomistic worldview eerily similar to our own.
    Now, to this day, lots of chefs will explain that cooking – or creating a recipe for that matter – is simply applied chemistry and physics. So it comes as no surprise that in a culture rich in ingredients and wealth and with thinkers who understood that manipulating the building blocks of matter would produce different results emerged a set of recipes greater and more influential than any that had come before.
    Enter Apicius, or rather, the Apicii.
    This is a surname that refers to a number of noteworthy Roman gourmandes who lived sometime around the first century BCE and were renowned for their culinary taste. Thus, the name became an eponym for anybody who was the roman equivalent of a foodie – kind of like Don Juan is synonymous with being a womanizer. So when a collection of hundreds of recipes began circulating among the wealthy kitchen owners of Rome, Apicius became a pretty good name for the book.
    This is truly a snapshot of Roman culture worth looking into, especially because it’s available for free via Project Gutenberg, which I’ll link to in the show notes. In total, the collection contains ten chapters arranged by category that list recipes for everything from Rose Wine, to Ostrich, to stuffed dormouse.
    Here’s a recipe for Roman Vermouth:

    ROMAN VERMOUTH [or Absinth] IS MADE THUS: ACCORDING TO THE RECIPE OF CAMERINUM YOU NEED WORMWOOD FROM SANTO FOR ROMAN VERMOUTH OR, AS A SUBSTITUTE, WORMWOOD FROM THE PONTUS CLEANED AND CRUSHED, 1 THEBAN OUNCE OF IT, 6 SCRUPLES OF MASTICH, 3 EACH OF [nard] LEAVES, COSTMARY AND SAFFRON AND 18 QUARTS OF ANY KIND OF MILD WINE. [Filter cold] CHARCOAL IS NOT REQUIRED BECAUSE OF THE BITTERNESS.

    Here, we begin to see something that resembles today’s recipes, something we might have a snowball’s chance at re-creating if only we could figure out how much a “Theban Ounce” weighs. But unfortunately, the specificity of this recipe is one of very few exceptions in the book – rather than the rule. Check out this recipe for milk fed snails and you’ll see what I mean:

    TAKE SNAILS AND SPONGE THEM; PULL THEM OUT OF THE SHELLS BY THE MEMBRANE AND PLACE THEM FOR A DAY IN A VESSEL WITH MILK AND SALT. RENEW THE MILK DAILY. HOURLY CLEAN THE SNAILS OF ALL REFUSE, AND WHEN THEY ARE SO FAT THAT THEY CAN NO LONGER RETIRE [to their shells] FRY THEM IN OIL AND SERVE THEM WITH WINE SAUCE. IN A SIMILAR WAY THEY MAY BE FED ON A MILK PORRIDGE. LEGGI TUTTO

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    Episode 144 – Letters from Quarantine

    If there’s one misnomer that needs dispatching right away, it’s “hay-infused” because he’s not infusing actual hay into the drink, but rather, a flavor compound called cis-3-Hexenal, which, according to Conigliaro has:

    “the perfect ‘just-cut grass’ note that, when added to fresh apple, makes it taste and smell just like hay.”

    He goes on to explain that eggshells are porous, and so he purchases this flavor (or more accurately, aroma) compound from an industrial flavor lab, soaks a wool cloth in it, and seals it in a container with a bunch of eggs. Over a certain period of time (which is not specified in the article), the eggs absorb the hay-like flavor through their shells, which is how he is able to get the flavor directly into the egg whites.
    At this point, Danny, I need to ask you to consider the differences between yourself and Tony Conigliaro, who was executing this move early on in the cocktail renaissance, signaling to me that he had a lot of funding and free time on his hands to get it right. When I look at this method, from the perspective of 98% of bars and 99% of home bartenders, it’s just oppressively difficult and cost-prohibitive.
    First off, you need to find the right flavor compound, and then you have to do a bunch of painstaking testing to get a single drink just right. So unless you have Bill Gates flying into Laramie for cocktails on the reg, I think this might be a bit beyond your reach.
    Complex Infusions
    But to be honest, when I first read your question, I had a few immediate thoughts that didn’t have anything to do with infusing eggs with flavor through the shells.
    My first thought was: what about aquafaba?
    This is the water that’s left over when you strain a can of chickpeas, and most bars use aqua faba as a vegan or labor-saving alternative to real egg whites. You can use it in similar proportions to an egg white in cocktails, and it produces very similar effects, minus the initial viscosity.
    But egg whites themselves are about 90% water, so whichever route you decide to go keep this one central rule in mind: water is known as “the universal solvent,” but it’s only good at dissolving and taking on the flavors of “water soluble compounds.”
    This means that oils and certain volatile aromatics are not going to infuse well into a water- and protein-based media like aqua faba or egg whites. And that also goes for the oils in the lemon zest you grated into your egg whites, Danny. That’s why you had to do it in the moment, and plus, as you mentioned, you’ve got a textural issue now with all that lemon zest swimming around the foam in your drink.
    Your best bets for flavoring egg whites are going to be hydrosols, like rose water or orange blossom water – which are created as bi-products of the essential oil making process. They’re more delicate than essential oils, but they are still extremely powerful, so use in moderation. Most popularly, we see the use of orange blossom water in the Ramos Gin Fizz – the one drink in the classic cocktail canon most notorious for its foamy head – so you can pretty much trust hydrosols for in-the-shaker infusion and possibly pre-service infusions into egg whites or aqua faba.
    Otherwise, you can certainly mess around with infusing fresh herbs into your egg whites, and similarly, you could see what berries and non-acidic fruit will yield – but make sure you’re not dropping a whole bunch of acid into your protein-rich solution because that could have some unintended textural consequences when it comes time to make the drink.
    In the end, Danny, egg whites are all about texture, which is why you see most people using infused spirits and outside hydrosols and flavor extracts to do the heavy lifting. It’s usually way easier and more effective to infuse your vodka with a handful of basil overnight than to try and balance both flavor and texture in egg whites.
    I know this long-winded answer might not have been what you were hoping for, but the important thing is this: you saw an opportunity, you got curious and did some research, and you didn’t stop trying when no easy answer presented itself. This sort of curiosity and persistence is exactly what leads to breakthroughs in our industry, so just because infused egg whites are tricky and expensive to execute doesn’t mean there aren’t other frontiers out there. What about trying to color your egg whites? What about playing around with stencils so that you can create designs on the finished drinks? There’s a lot to do out there, and we hope you keep us posted with updates as you continue along your bartending journey.
    Thanks for writing in.
    Tips for Making Smoked Cocktail Garnishes
    Next up, we have a smoky question from Brianne in New Hampshire, who says:

    Hey Eric and team,
    Hope you’re well despite all the craziness and quarantines going on. I have a question about smoked drink garnishes and was wondering if you have any experience making them.
    My husband just got a new smoker over the holidays, and we both love smoked food and smoky drinks like Scotch. He has been working super hard at an essential job during the coronavirus outbreak, and I wanted to surprise him with some smoked cocktail garnishes since I’m working from home right now and have the time.
    Any suggestions about how to do this and what garnishes might work best? I know about how long to smoke a pork shoulder, but I have no clue about non-meat items, so any advice you have would be amazing.
    Thanks, and stay safe,Brianne

    Well Brianne, you pose an interesting question because smoke is an excellent way to impart flavor – as you mentioned, Scotch makers have been doing it incredibly well for centuries.
    My initial thoughts here is that this project might require a little bit of trial and error because there seem to be a lot of variables involved. So let’s run through a couple of those variables on air here and I’ll see if I can help you decide how to approach your smoked garnishes.
    First off – what to smoke? I think citrus wheels are an attractive option here. Because smoking produces heat in addition to the wood polyphenols and other compounds that comprise smoke, you can potentially use your smoker as a way to dehydrate your citrus wheels while adding flavor. We’ll get to this in a second because I really think this is going to be your best bet.
    Other common cocktail ingredients and garnishes you might consider smoking are simple syrup for Old Fashioneds, brandied cherries for Manhattans and other delicious drinks, smoked salt for rimming Margaritas, and even smoked water for ice. You can smoke all these things in roughly the same way – varying the amount of time in the smoker based on how smoky you want them to be. Keep in mind with the cherries and the simple syrup that – depending on how hot your smoker gets – you might experience some evaporation or drying of the fruit, so think about how you’d ideally avoid that.
    Now, this talk about temperature brings me to my next big piece of advice, which is: really think about what kind of smoker you’re using. Spoiler alert – Brianne and I went back and forth a little bit on this, and it turns out her smoker has a built in thermostat for temperature control, but many smokers out there – including the one I use at home – do not.
    Obviously, for the dehydrating of citrus wheels or other fresh garnishes, temperature is going to be important if you want to avoid over-cooking or under-cooking. Most recipes recommend putting your citrus wheels on a baking sheet in the oven somewhere between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 hours, so if you can manage something similar with your smoker, then I say go for it. LEGGI TUTTO